How good is Fnatic really? How good is Europe? These questions were raised often by fans and analysts during the first half of the Worlds Group Stage. On Saturday, however, Fnatic silenced those who doubted them by going 3-0 in one of the hardest groups of Worlds, ever, booking their place in the knockout stage of the World Championship, and joining the other two LEC teams in the process. Fnatic were truly online.
After Fnatic’s insane run, taking down Clutch Gaming, SK Telecom T1 and Royal Never Give Up, Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov opened up about the games, what’s next for the team, and how they feel heading into the knockout stages of the tournament.
With a gruelling schedule ahead of them, Fnatic’s first game was not the kind of game that they hoped for. The 48-minute slugfest could have gone either way, and Hylissang admits that Clutch won the draft, saying, “I was last pick but I didn’t have any idea what I should play into their Heimerdinger and Gangplank. We had a dive composition and that diving into Heimerdinger turrets and a Gangplank ultimate doesn’t really work that well. I think they didn’t play their best game, so we somehow outfought them even though it was difficult.”
“I’m really surprised that we bounced back and somehow managed to sweep the big teams in this tournament.”
Next up, Fnatic faced the titanic SKT. Despite losing to them in the first week of Groups, Fnatic were able to turn things around, as Tim "Nemesis" Lipovšek’s Veigar, together with Hylissang’s Leona, were able to run a brilliant zoning strategy. SKT couldn’t get the engages that they wanted, and Fnatic was able to pick them off one-by-one. Nemesis was even able to pick up a solo kill against one of the most renowned mid laners in the World, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok.
Winning against Clutch Gaming and SKT meant that beating Royal Never Give Up would secure Fnatic’s spot in Madrid as the second seed in the group. The pressure was high, and yet Fnatic opted in to play through the bot lane, a strategy that RNG is known for. Hylissang says it was about making a statement: “You can’t do the exact same thing that you just did on blue side and run the strategy again on red side. We had a kill lane and they had a poke lane,” he says. “We’ll win this match-up every time as long as we are blue side”.
Hylissang’s very well known for his Pyke-play back in Europe. He decided to bring it out because “they target banned me. I felt like it was going to be a good Pyke game regardless,” he says. “I’m comfortable on the champion, and there wasn’t really anything left other than Thresh, which they should have picked. I think Lulu is fine but not on red side”.
Winning all three games was unexpected for Fnatic’s support. “I’m really surprised that we bounced back and somehow managed to sweep the big teams in this tournament,” he says. “It feels really amazing and I’m really happy for my team and how my teammates played.”
When Hyllisang woke up, he wasn’t really all that optimistic, but he also knew that going 3-0 was always possible. “We worked hard to fix our problems. I think we figured out our issues a lot faster than before. We lost games against RNG and SKT that we could have won easily in the first part of the Group Stage. We just didn’t know how to break their turrets.”
In the first part of the Group Stage, both Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau and Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen were very sick. They both had throat infections and could barely talk. Hylissang is happy to say that they are doing a lot better now. “Every time they talked, it hurt a bit, so they couldn’t talk as much during practice and stage games which hurt the communication of the team.”
Despite having the odds stacked high in Group C, Hyllisang really enjoyed the pressure of the group, adding, ”If you get past this group, you have the skills to make it to the final. I don’t want to say that we’ll make it there, but we are definitely contenders for the big spots in the tournament.”
For the quarterfinals, Fnatic’s support feels he wants to play against a Chinese team explaining, “I think they fight a lot and we fight a lot as a European team. I’d like to fight them, it would be a fun show.”
And Hyllisang will get his wish: Fnatic face off against FunPlus Phoenix in their first knockouts game, who have shown they’re not to be underestimated. But more importantly, with Fnatic making it through, for the first time in Worlds history, every European team has made it to the quarterfinals. Hopefully they can all extend their hot streak in Madrid next week.